Nursing associates trained through pilot programmes that began this year will be able to register with the Nursing and Midwifery Council in the future, despite the fact they will not have gained an NMC-approved qualification, the regulator has indicated.
The regulator has still yet to set the standards for nursing associate training and is also awaiting changes to legislation before it can open its register to the new role, the latter of which usually takes 18 months.
An early draft of the proficiences that nursing associates will have to achieve is expected to be made available this week, following an NMC council meeting on Wednesday.
The government asked the NMC at the end of 2016 to regulate associates, but by that point arm’s-length body Health Education England had already announced two-year pilot programmes would be going ahead from early 2017.
Previously, the head of the regulator has said nursing associates have been developed in the “wrong order”, because the NMC would usually set the standards before courses could begin.
NMC council members have also in the past expressed concerns about the “dangerous” situation in which those who trained through the pilots might practise under the title of nursing associate without being regulated by the NMC.
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In NMC council papers published last week, the regulator proposes transitional arrangements be put in place for the 2,000 trainees who began programmes at 35 pilot sites in England this year.
It plans to allow associates from the pilot sites onto its register as long as the qualification they have gained has been assessed as being “comparable” to one gained through an NMC-approved course. This assessment will be made by the NMC once HEE has checked test sites are delivering training according to its curriculum.
In addition, the university that delivered their training will need to confirm to the NMC that the associate has met the regulator’s, as yet, unpublished standards of proficiency for the role.
The associate will also have to meet the NMC’s usual requirements of having good health and good character.
The regulator said it had reviewed HEE’s curriculum framework for associates against its own existing requirements for universities offering nursing courses. It concluded that, while “it does not set the same requirements as the NMC sets for those programmes we approve currently, or envisage setting for nursing associate programmes”, there was “broad comparability”.
It has proposed that HEE checks test sites later this year to ensure they are delivering training in line with the curriculum framework.
Meanwhile, it is expected that NHS trusts will also start training nursing associates through apprenticeships before the NMC has finalised training standards. This route “may be available before the end of 2017”, according to the council papers.
The regulator said it was currently “too early” to assess whether associates trained in this way would have gained “comparable” qualifications that would allow them onto the register. The NMC said it planned to look at the issue again in early 2018.
The proposals are due to be discussed at an NMC council meeting in London on Wednesday before the group will decide whether to approve them or not.
“The council is asked to approve a policy that, subject to appropriate assurance being provided, specified groups who qualify as nursing associates prior to NMC programme approval can be deemed as having gained a qualification comparable to an NMC approved programme,” said the papers.
Meanwhile, on Wednesday the regulator is expected to release an early working draft of the proficiences that nursing associates will have to achieve by the end of training – if the NMC council approves such a move later this week.